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Payment Cited As Example of Mismanagement

July 30, 2018

LOWELL -- A school principal will be paid for overseeing a classroom construction project almost a year after work concluded through a payment some members of the School Committee say is illustrative of the district’s troubling financial practices.

Though the School Committee unanimously approved a $6,590 payment to the principal of the STEM Academy at Rogers School, Jason McCrevan, the process behind the request divided the committee.

“I think it was misspent money,” said School Committee member Jackie Doherty. “I think you could have had someone from the maintenance crew. It’s no fault of the principal. ...but I think it’s another example of the incompetent (district) leadership that we had that has lost us money that we can’t afford.”

The request was submitted to the School Committee earlier this month, but a canceled meeting and vote to reschedule several items last week meant the issue was delayed. In the meantime, the School Committee voted 4-3 last week to start the process of firing Superintendent of Schools Salah Khelfaoui and to place him on paid administrative leave.

Discussion of the payment echoed arguments for and against Khelfaoui’s management of the district.

School Committee member Robert Hoey Jr., who supported the superintendent, said many school committees around the state are trying to overreach by taking a role in certain district hiring processes beyond the committees’ powers.

“We got to remember we don’t have the power that we had and we’re trying to get that back. That’s not going to happen.” said Hoey. “I just want to say I don’t think the superintendent mismanaged as much as maybe some of the people around him trying to bring him down. We’ll see how it turns out.”

According to district documents, McCrevan worked ten days in July and August 2017 to oversee the conversion of classroom space at Rogers School. A memorandum agreement says “the parties agree that this work saved the district monies which would have been spent on hiring contractors, construction supervisors and/or other independent contractors.”

At this week’s meeting, School Committee member Gerry Nutter, who has often criticized Khelfaoui, said he was concerned with the process used to hire the principal for the construction project, which did not include a request for proposals or School Committee approval.

School Committee member Connie Martin said though the expense was incurred last fiscal year, this year’s budget will be used to pay the cost, since the School Committee was not notified of this agreement before the end of the last spending period.

“At every meeting we sign off on a permission to enter,” she said. “That is established so that any contract that is entered into for more than $5,000 needs to come before this body to be approved. That is standard operating procedure. This is outside that. We never saw this to approve it.”

Mayor William Samaras said he is also concerned, because the agreement did not involve a formal contract.

“The issue is he was hired without a contract,” he said. “That’s problematic for me.”

School Committee member Andre Descoteaux argued the body does not know whether the principal was qualified or the reason why he was hired for the job.

“Faced with the situation with the public works and the city being spread out so thinly in this city, to not have enough people to do that work, could explain why it went that route,” he said.

McCrevan and Michael Long, the attorney representing Khelfaoui, did not speak at the meeting and did not respond to emails requesting comment in time for deadline.

Descoteaux joined Hoey and School Committee member Dominik Lay in support of Khelfaoui, during last week’s vote. The remaining members of the school committee voted to terminate the contract.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins

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